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Crimean Tatar Architecture

Khan Mosque
Khan Mosque, Gözleve

Crimean Tatar presence in Crimea dates back to at least the 1440s when they established their own Khanate in the medieval city of Solhat, now Eski Kirim (Stariy Krim). In the next three centuries, they built mosques, medreses (Islamic schools), mausoleums, caravansaries, fountains, and public water systems. Following the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Empire in 1783, however, the Crimean Tatar civilization became under attack. Not only the native population of Crimea was pressured to leave their homeland and emigrate to neighboring countries (mainly the Ottoman lands) but also their religious edifices and public fountains were destroyed and left in ruins. When the Soviet government deported en masse the remaining Tatar population to Central Asia in 1944, it appeared that all traces of Islamic presence in Crimea were eradicated. Today, more than 250,000 Crimean Tatars are back in their native country, trying to reestablish their lives and reassert their cultural and national rights. Once again, they are constructing mosques and schools, and reclaiming mosques and medreses that were converted to other uses by the Soviets. The following historic buildings, Özbek Han Mosque (Eski Kirim), Khan Mosque (Gözleve), and the Palace of the Khans (Bahçesaray), have been renovated and remain as illustrious examples of Crimean Tatar architecture.

Özbek Han Mosque
Eski Kirim (Stariy Qrim), Crimea

Located 25 km west of Kefe (Feodosia), Eski Kirim was once known as Solhat, a prospering city during the reign of the Golden Horde. The early Crimean Khans had their capital in Solhat until the first part of the 16th century, when the capital was moved to Bahçesaray, and Solhat gradually lost its importance as a cultural and economic center.

Özbek Han Mosque, the oldest Islamic edifice in Crimea, dates from 1314.(*) Based on a square floor plan, the mosque reveals architectural features similar to those found in Anatolia during the Seljuk period, including the monumental entrance with a carved wooden door. There were Seljuk settlements in Crimea during the Golden Horde period, and it is not surprising to find this elegant stalactite doorway, which was then a stylish feature of mosques built elsewhere in the Islamic world. Adjacent to the southern wall of the mosque, once stood a Medrese (Islamic school), built by Inci Hatun, daughter of Kilburun Bey, in 1332. The rear view of the mosque shows the remaining walls of the Medrese. Today, Eski Kirim has a small but devoted Crimean Tatar population, and Özbek Han Mosque is once again functioning as a place of worship.

Palace of the Khans (Han Saray)
Bahçesaray (Bakhchisarai), Crimea

Bahçesaray served as the capital of Crimean Khanate from the early 16th century until the Russian annexation of Crimea in 1783. Han Saray, the residence of the Khans as well as the administrative center of the Khanate, was built by Mengli Giray in the early 16th century and eventually grew into a complex of buildings and courtyards. The palace includes State Council's Hall (Divan), reception halls, administrative and service quarters, guest rooms, the Harem, gardens, a mosque, a private chapel (mescit), and a cemetery for the Giray family. In 1736 the Russian army attacked Bahçesaray and destroyed the Palace, including the Khan's library, and a third of the city. Subsequently, the Palace was rebuilt, and most of the existing structures today date from the 1737-1743 period. The oldest part of the Palace is the Iron Gate, which bears the date of 909 (1503-1504), and the elaborate portal was designed by an Italian architect in Renaissance decorative style. (There is also a claim that the Iron Gate was built in Solhat (Eski Kirim), the former headquarters of the Crimean Khanate, and later brought to the new capital.) The well-known Fountain of Tears, located within an enclosed courtyard just outside of the Council's Hall, dates from 1763. After the Russian annexation, Han Saray was renovated a number of times by architects and artisans not familiar with the elements of Islamic art and architecture. Although today it is a museum of Crimean Tatar history and decorative arts, there is a strong interest in restoring Han Saray to its original state.

Khan Mosque (Han Camii)
Gözleve or Kezlev (Yevpatoria), Crimea

Khan Mosque remains the most striking example of Islamic architecture in Crimea today. It is one of the few Tatar edifices that have survived the Russian domination of two centuries. It was built in the early 1550s by Khan Devlet Giray and designed by the well-known Ottoman architect Sinan. Modeled after the original Fatih Mosque (no longer extant) in Istanbul, the structure supports one central dome, one half-dome, and three smaller domes on each side. Entrance to the mosque is thru an elegant wooden door on the northern side, and an arcade with five smaller domes forms the front facade. The two minarets, which were reconstructed several times, date from the late 1970s, when the structure went through extensive renovation. Russians used it as a museum of archeology in the 1980s, but the Crimean Tatars who resettled in the area took custody of the building in 1990. Additional restoration has been necessary to turn it into a mosque once again.

For additional information on the above historical sites, see Bibliography.

Inci Bowman
December 1998


(*) Postscript: According to M.G. Kramarovsky of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the mosque was built at its current location around the turn of the sixteenth century, incorporating the portal, mihrab and other architectural elements from the original Özbek Han Mosque, which was at a different location in Solhat. For additional information, see the description provided at the ArchNet Digital Library Web site.

The ArchNet is an Internet project administered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( MIT) School of Architecture and Planning. The project is supported by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network. The ArchNet aims to provide extensive, high-quality and globally accessible images relating to architecture, urban design and development in the Muslim world. The following historical structures are represented in the ArchNet digital collection:

Each monument is accompanied by a description of its history and architecture, written by the staff of the ArchNet project. Additionally, the Tomb of Haci Giray Khan in Salacik (near Bakhchisaray) is included in the Digital Library.

28 January 2006


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